UMATILLA COUNTY – Protests and COVID-19 were at the forefront of the conversation during a virtual town hall hosted by representative Greg Smith, R-Heppner, Thursday 9 July.
Smith started the city hall by providing a summary of some of his votes on bills related to both issues during the recent special session of the Oregon legislature, before asking questions and feedback to the audience who participated on video.
“I know there is a lot of frustration in the state of Oregon and in the community right now, and if I’m going to serve you properly in the legislature, I need to know what you’re thinking,” he said.
On the police reform proposals introduced during the special session, Smith explained his thinking in supporting some but not others.
He voted yes on the House bill 4207, which would maintain a database of public records on police discipline and would require law enforcement to monitor it during the hiring process. Smith said that while he believes that most police officers do a “fabulous job”, he also believes that when an officer does not do their job properly, there should be a transparent process for the public and the media to access those documents.
He also voted yes for the Senate bill of 1604, which restricts referees to overturn the discipline given to police officers, if the referee also discovers that misconduct has occurred.
Smith voted no on House 4208, which restricts the use of tear gas only to incidents that have been declared a riot. Smith said he wanted to make sure law enforcement had the tools they needed.
“Although I fully believe that all citizens have the right to First Amendment rights – public speech, open speech, freedom of speech and right of assembly – I do not believe that they have the right to rebel, plunder, have criminal behavior, be thieves and break into stores, “he said.
It was also one of only five votes excluded in the House on House bill 4203, which bans police use of chokes except in cases where the use of deadly force would be authorized.
Smith referred to an accident in 2014 when a drunk driver hit his family’s vehicle as they were returning home from a state wrestling tournament. When the driver fled, Smith chased him and detained him until the police arrived. He said he had to use “every ounce of physical assistance that I had to check on this person”.
“It really left me with the impression of what our law enforcement people go through every day, so I never wanted to guess those tough men and women who protect us in the way they handle the most difficult situations,” he said. She said.
Smith said he voted in favor of the Senate proposal of 1603 to expand rural broadband, despite the fact that many Republicans voted against it because it included a new tax on cell phones. He said that a tax on state telephones would generate most of his income from residents in the metropolitan area and therefore spend that money in rural areas of the state.
“If we can allow Portland, Beaverton and Gresham to help develop rural broadband in Condon or Heppner or Umatilla or Irrigon, I am in favor of it,” he said.
Smith also discussed the economic impacts of COVID-19. He said he is very concerned about the expected $ 2.7 billion deficit for the two year period and that the state will have difficult choices ahead of time where to make the cuts.
He turned to local projects that were suspended after a sharp drop in lottery revenue stopped selling $ 237 million in bonds to pay for capital projects. Two of these projects include the $ 1 million mental health-centered refurbishment of Umatilla County Jail, the expansion of the Port of Morrow early learning center, and Blue Mountain Community College’s Farm II, which will include an arena indoor and classrooms in Pendleton.
“What we don’t know is how long they will stay on the shelf,” said Smith.
He said funding could simply be delayed as the state waited to reach the debt-to-revenue ratio required for the sale of the bonds to proceed. He said the governor could also choose to prioritize seeking funding for more distant projects, or the state leadership could simply “wipe his hands” on the projects and start pressuring funding again in the future.
When constituents raised concerns about helping small businesses and people affected by COVID-19, Smith said he initially felt understanding as the Oregon Department of Labor struggled to process the initial wave of questions. of unemployment due to a pandemic they hadn’t foreseen, but the time has passed to understand.
“After four months, the fact that we still have people here in District 57 who have not yet seen their benefits is unacceptable,” he said.
When asked about his position on the vaccination requirement for COVID-19, when one is available, Smith said that he and his wife vaccinated their children and would strongly encourage everyone to vaccinate their children. But when it came to a vote, he said, he would vote to protect “parental rights”.